It’s 2012! I’m celebrating the coming year of joy.
Would you like to come along for the ride? Well, then pull up a comfy chair and pour yourself a leftover glass of eggnog, because I have a little story for you.
Many years ago, my mom decided that as she was packing away the Christmas decorations in January she would include a note detailing the significant happenings of the year that had just ended.
Mom shared with me that over the years this letter became an annual tradition.
She described the many joys of her three children’s lives, such as high school and college graduations, marriages, births of grandchildren, work achievements and home purchases. She detailed the work accomplishments of my dad and the joy as they celebrated anniversaries together.
Mom also wrote some sad letters, such as the years that her mother and father passed away and the year that our family dog, Jingles, died.
As Christmas 2011 approached, I wondered what I would write in a letter to be boxed away with my decorations. Since I’ve never done this before, I thought it would be interesting to detail the healing that has taken place on my faith journey over the past eight years.
You see, eight years ago, in 2003, I was a happily married lady and the proud mother of three grown sons.
I was planning the weddings of two of my sons and the third had just confided in me that he was also contemplating getting hitched. You know what they say, things always come in threes!
Losing a son
Well, God had other plans for my family, and shortly after the Christmas of 2003, my oldest son, who was a personal trainer for Bally’s, passed away of a massive brain aneurysm and we had to make a decision to disconnect from life support. I was in shock!
I had given this child life and now I was part of a family unit deciding to let him go. As I looked at his lifeless body in the hospital bed, I told him to look for the light, because when he sees that, Jesus will be waiting at the end of the tunnel.
As I said this, the machines connected to his body began to scream that the end was near. Did he see Jesus and go with him? I believe in my heart of hearts that he did.
Talk about a year of happenings! Our second son Andy was scheduled to graduate from college two months after Daniel’s death and a month after that Andy and his fiancée, Angie, were getting married. And to complicate matters, Daniel was to be the best man.
Somehow our extended family helped out and we managed to pull off the graduation, a wedding shower, a bachelor party, and the wedding all within three months of the funeral. My youngest son Mike graciously filled in as the best man.
I’ll never forget the Christmas of 2004. My husband determined that the best way to honor the passing of our son that year would be to erect a Memorial Christmas Tree. We purchased a pre-lit tree with white lights, hung only clear ornaments of angels, stars, and icicles and filled the empty spaces with ice blue ribbon. We were hurting.
I remember that my husband and I forced ourselves to go to the mall to purchase gifts for our loved ones.
Once in the store, I immediately started to shiver and hyperventilate. It was too much for me! How could everyone be so jolly when my son was dead? Then a reporter from our local paper stopped us in the mall to inquire how we planned to celebrate the holidays. My husband quietly told him to find another person to interview.
Needless to say, it was a very sad year at the Tess residence. I truly felt sorry for Andy and Angie as the excitement from the first year of marriage was somewhat muted with all the pain we were experiencing.
By the following March, about a year after Daniel’s death, my husband Steven had developed a problem with his arm and needed rotator cuff surgery. I took him in to the hospital for the surgery and brought him home the next day.
About a week later, I came home from the drugstore to find Steve attempting to dial 911 as he held himself up in a doorway. He had developed blood clots on his lungs.
I got the ambulance and by the time we got to the hospital the damage had been done. By the next morning Steve was in the intensive care unit battling for life.
God is good! Steve survived the ordeal, but had permanent damage to his lungs.
More wedding bells
A month later, our son Michael was scheduled to graduate from college, and just like his brother, he had planned a wedding for a month after his graduation. Here we were again, attending a graduation, planning a wedding shower, a bachelor party, and a wedding.
Michael and his fiancée, Alyssa, did get married as scheduled. After the Mass, I took Steve home to rest before the reception. When we got there I informed Steve that I myself was feeling ill. At any rate, we made it back to the reception and Steve’s doctor made a “wedding call” to make sure that Steve was healthy enough to stay.
A week after the wedding, I became violently ill, and my still-sick husband took me to the emergency room. I had developed painful kidney stones that would not pass and I needed surgery. Now.
I had the surgery and my doctor determined that I had a hyperactive parathyroid gland that needed to come out now. I asked how they took it out, and the reply was that they would need to cut my neck open.
But no worries! The scar would “somewhat disappear” in time. Ugh!
I was still wearing a nasty scar when Steven really began to have problems breathing again. He had a boatload of scar tissue in his lungs that needed to be removed now. Off we went to the Midwest Heart Lung Institute doctors and a surgery 50 miles from home.
Steve had just come out of surgery looking very blue in the face and we had called a nurse because we were concerned. It was then that the phone rang and my son Andy was on the other end of the line saying that his wife Angie had just come back from a routine test indicating that she had “heart problems.”
I got Steve home from the hospital the day before Thanksgiving and I went into a deep depression because now a year after Daniel’s death, I began to realize that he was never coming home and things weren’t looking too swell for my husband either.
I went for intense grief counseling.
I had just gotten back from a counseling session when the phone rang. My son Andy
was calling to say that his wife Angie needed open heart surgery. Double “What next?”
A blue Christmas
Christmas 2005 was another strange year at the Tess house as I was dealing with severe depression and a whopper of a neck scar, plus helping my husband with activities of daily living while waiting for my daughter-in-law’s surgery.
In January of 2006, my daughter-in-law had her surgery and healed like a pro and I continued to see my counselor several times a week. But Steve’s healing from the surgery was not happening as planned. He suffered throughout the spring of 2006 with more blood clots and his damaged lungs.
In June, we quietly celebrated our 29th anniversary. On July 24th, I came home from work to find Steven dead.
The coroner theorized that a blood clot had stolen my husband’s life.
Our family was devastated! We had come so far together and here we were mourning another loss.
Needless to say, the following few Christmases would be extremely tough on me. I was dealing with real, heartfelt sorrow and it would be a long journey back to health and happiness.
My remaining sons were married and living several hours away. They would celebrate
with their families.
I would celebrate Christmas Eve with my sister-in-law. If not for her kindness, I know I would not be writing this column today.
I call my sister-in-law Joan my best friend. I do so because she was here to hold my hand
through all the tears. It was Joan who came to hold me and cry with me as the paramedics pronounced Steven dead that sunny afternoon in July of 2006.
It was Joan who would come wipe my tears in the middle of the night and take me to the emergency room when I felt as if I was having a heart attack; and it was Joan who would volunteer with me as a religious education teacher on Sunday mornings to get me out of the house.
The more that Joan suggested activities, the better I began to feel. Eventually volunteering would become second nature to me and it expanded my world.
As I grew healthier, around Christmas 2009, my son Andy felt that it would be good for me to experience the feeling of joy again and encouraged me to sign up for CatholicMatch. And so began the next part of my recovery.
I hung in there, made many friends on CatholicMatch and in October of 2010 met Mr. Right. We exchanged Christmas gifts that year and I quietly told him that for Christmas 2011, I would like to be sitting next to him in church at Midnight Mass, just holding his hand.
I wrote in my December 2011 column that all I really wanted for Christmas was to have Mr. Right sing Silent Night to me. You see, back in the day, he used to sing on stage. He has a rich voice that sounds like an angel.
I was invited to travel to Mr. Right’s hometown, where I visited with his family on Christmas Eve.
We all attended Midnight Mass, where Mr. Right held my hand. I will never forget the rich sound of his voice singing Silent Night during that Mass. Nor will I ever forget the love in his eyes before he kissed me goodnight.
Yes indeed, fast away the old year passes, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
I think I’ll just record that sweet 2011 Christmas Eve story in my journal this year.
Hang on to your hats, because it looks like 2012 is shaping up to be a very good year!
- Meet Linda, a CatholicMatch member whose husband was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
- Don’t miss, “A New Year, A New Diary: ‘It’s Like Starting A New Chapter,'” which was published in “Faith, Hope & Love” one year ago.